There's more to getting a good
than just tweaking the volume,
treble, and bass controls...
How to get a good
If you think that all
you need to do is simply plug in your mic and backing tracks and
set the volumes, think again! Your sound will be different in
every venue you perform because each "room" will have
Most gigging singers don't have the luxury of doing a sound check
in the afternoon before a performance so most probably you are
used to having to turn up to the venue, set up your gear and do
the gig there and then.
However, here's some clever tips and tricks you can use to get
that great sound at every gig, every night, with the minimum of
Use a powerful
You should ensure that your PA is big enough for the venue.
If your PA is even slightly underpowered, your amplifier can "clip"
causing distortion and wreck your sound. A POWERFUL PA system
doesn't have to mean a LOUD PA system. You will get far better
quality from a large amplifier working at half it's capacity than
a smaller one working at it's full capacity, so always buy the
most powerful amplifier and speakers you can afford. Remember,
a big amplifier can be turned down but a small amplifier can never
be turned up.
It's also worth noting that it's a complete myth that your speakers
should always be more powerful than your amplifier so that you
"can't blow them". Actually, the opposite is true! If
your amplifier is underpowered, the harmonic distortion it creates
when working at it's full capacity can blow your speakers.
The answer? Buy a big amplifier, run it at up to about 75% of
it's capacity and you'll get a great quality sound, and as long
as your speakers are rated to handle that amount of power, they'll
By the way, when it comes to buying bass speakers - bigger is
always best. Don't be fooled by music shop assistants who try
to tell you that they have lovely little bass speakers which can
emit big, booming bass - they might sound great in the shop but
get them to a venue and you'll find they're pretty useless.
If you're playing a small venue, your bass speakers should be
about the size of your TV, and if you're playing a large venue,
they should be the size of your sofa (or bigger)..!
Setting the sound
Usually, you will have been using the same PA system at all your
gigs for some time now and so the volume balances between your
and your backing
tracks (and their individual treble & bass settings and
mic reverb/echo etc) will already be pretty well set. So here's
When performing at your next venue, keep your individual channel
settings the same (after all, you use these settings night after
night and you've honed them in to giving you pretty much a good
All you should change is the MASTER volume and MASTER treble &
bass (EQ). It's that simple!
You see, if, for example, you are working in a venue which has
an odd shape which makes the room very "bassy", then
that means that everything will be too "bassy"
- your mic, the backing tracks and your guitar etc (if you play
an instrument). So, it makes sense that making a global change
to your sound (ie the MASTER volume, eq and reverb/echo) rather
than making individual channel adjustments will make the necessary
adjustments to ALL your channels with one simple action rather
than going through every channel one by one.
And, there's another benefit... the next night, when you're working
at a different venue, with different acoustics, you can easily
adjust your sound yet again by only changing the master settings
Using good cables
It's not just a bigger amplifier or better mixing desk that can
improve your sound. The type of cables you use and their connections
are equally important. Whenever possible you should always used
Balanced cables reduce potential noise in the signal path. No
doubt, if you are a singer who is serious about your show, you
will be using a considerable amount of musical equipment (microphone,
PA, mp3 player/mini-disc, lighting rig etc). Noise from the various
power cables and radio frequency interference is often introduced
into your audio cables and you're probably not even aware of it
(although, believe me, you will certainly notice how much quieter
and cleaner your sound is whenit's NOT there)! Using balanced
cables can eliminate this interference because balanced cables
are designed to eliminate noise using the basic principal that
two signals that are exactly 180 degrees out of phase will cancel
each other out.
Here's how it works. Unbalanced leads use connectors with two
terminals. Most mono jack-plugs are connected by single core screened
cable. This provides two signal paths, hot and earth. The hot
line carries the main signal, while the screen carries the earth
Balanced cables (e.g.
XLR's), on the other hand, use connectors with three terminals
and are connected by core screen cable. This still provides a
mono signal, but has three lines: a hot, (+ positive),
a cold (- negative) and an earth. The audio is transmitted on
both the hot and cold lines but the voltage on the cold
line is inverted so it is negative when the hot signal is positive,
making the two signals 180 degrees out of phase of each other.
Any noise picked up along the cable is identical on both lines.
The audio signal has an opposite voltage on each line, so when
you plug a balanced cable into a piece of equipment, the hot and
cold signals are combined and the voltage of the inverted audio
signal is re-inverted.
Thus the wanted audio signal can be heard, but the inversion puts
the unwanted noise out of phase so that it is cancelled out and
cannot be heard.
Article Written by Kenny Campbell
(This article cannot be reproduced without express
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